Federal crop insurance and the critical role it serves as part of the farm safety net unexpectedly took center stage at a recent Senate Finance hearing with the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.
Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow questioned USTR Lighthizer on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) proposed spending plan for Fiscal Year 2020, which takes aim at the United States Department of Agriculture. OMB suggested making cuts to a popular farm risk management tool: crop insurance.
While this budget is unlikely to ever be adopted by Congress, Senator Stabenow, who is the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, rightly noted that cuts to the USDA and crop insurance would be contrary to the policy objectives established by the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the Farm Bill in December 2018.
Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) immediately interjected, emphasizing that cutting crop insurance is a non-starter.
“It would gut the program,” the Chairman said of OMB’s proposal, “and that’s the one thing that our farmers and ranchers and growers all over the country said was the number one issue.”
He wasn’t alone in criticizing the plan. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) made his objections heard a couple of days earlier.
“More than 310 million farm acres protected by crop insurance would be at risk,” he said of the plan, which he noted, “undermines our farmers.”
And those farmers have been very clear in their message to Capitol Hill to “do no harm” to crop insurance. Some of these farmers reiterated this ask at this week’s Agri-Pulse summit in Washington, D.C.
Luke Howard, an organic farmer from Millington, Maryland, shared how crop insurance helped his farm after a record rainfall last year, stating it was a lifesaver and “a smart use of tax dollars.”
And a first-generation farmer, John Shepherd from Blackstone, Virginia, emphasized that he may not have survived his first few years of farming without the safety net provided by crop insurance.
Their stories and similar testaments from farmers and ranchers are clear.
We simply cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of America’s farmers and ranchers. And agriculture cannot thrive without a strong crop insurance system.